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A Thai tragedy or farce?

Publication Date : 05-02-2014


Thailand's disrupted election may or may not be completed in coming weeks to achieve a parliamentary quorum for a government to be empanelled.

A persistent state of unrest is what is on the minds of the anti-government elites, whose mission has been to cow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra into surrender through intimidation. She must hold her nerve to preserve a principle.

But should the Puea Thai Party gain a majority in the 500-seat Parliament, it could still face constitutional disbarment if results get voided and Yingluck is impeached in a witch-hunt. In the turmoil, few images can have been more damaging to Thailand than protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban having the run of Bangkok, making threats against the Prime Minister while he faces various charges.

Thailand is disintegrating as a polity. The government is barricaded; the armed services watch while emergency conditions are flouted; organs of state, like the constitutional court, struggle to be impartial; voters get disenfranchised, while anarchists roam free.

This is a tragedy and a farce. Those who opposed elections - the only constitutional means of resolving a disputed mandate - will regret the day they turned their backs on free choice in favour of rule by fiat, based essentially on breeding. It will bring not peace, but grief.

The Democratic Party of ex-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will have much to answer for as its boycott of a democratic election subverted the nation's interests.

Knowing how Thailand got itself into a pickle is less important now than acknowledging the dangers it faces. The elites who have most to lose if the country implodes ought to take a step back to recall what happened in the 1997 Asian currency debacle.

It began in Thailand, when a weakened baht came under attack and the country crashed. The effects felt across Asia cost several nations a decade of progress.

Thailand's economy has since grown resilient with decent growth and reserves, good terms of trade and a stable currency. Yet, nothing can be assumed.

Ratings agencies and investors who had treated past crises as formulaic disturbances which did not harm underlying fundamentals will crunch unknown variables, as this crisis is different.

Civil strife feeding secessionist tendencies in the north and south is one unknown; questions about the royal succession are another. If a coup took place and violence became widespread, the tourist trade that has been holding up will shrivel.

A percentage point or two could be shaved off growth, which had already fallen from 6.5 per cent in 2012 to about 4 per cent last year. Plotters should spend some time contemplating the kind of future they think they are making for themselves.


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